Wednesday, December 31, 2014

See You Next Year!

I would like to send you off into the new year with a German New Year's tradition and the best wishes for 2015!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Week/Year In Review - Ten Things Of Thankful x 2 (80)

Ten Things of Thankful

Yes, I know, I'm quite late (48 minutes to spare here in Germany, to be exact), and on top of it, the headline is longer than usual, hinting at a few more thankfuls than usual.  First of all, I enjoyed the break from the computer over the holidays (if I didn't work, that is), but was so excited for all the last thankfuls if this wonderful year 2014. I can't believe it's been a year again. With all the excitement we had in our family this time last year (we found out for sure that Calvin was on his way on the 24th last year), it was very special "recapping" everything while having out little guy celebrate with us (or, more realistically, be very overwhelmed with the situation).

Today, I would like to share two separate lists of thankfuls. One focussing on the more general aspects of our lives, which are by no means taken for granted, even though they are not always regarded with the importance they actually have:

1. The people in my life. First and foremost my wonderful family, which even grew by one beautiful little boy this year. Secondly, my friends. I am so thankful for every single one of them.

2. Our home. Yes, we moved this year to our very own home. But that is not necessarily what I am thankful for (even though I absolutely am). I am incredibly thankful that our family has shelter, with all the amenities like power, running water, central heating, etc. that most people just take for granted without realizing that a large portion of this planet's population live without it, even people in our (developed) countries.

3. Food on our tables. With refugees dying of dehydration and people in Africa living through one drought after the next, food and water are definitely nothing to take for granted!

4. Health. One thing that we can only buy with money in a limited fashion. I am thankful for having access to healthcare when needed, but I am also thankful that our family is generally quite healthy.

5. Peace. This year, way too many people in this world did not get to enjoy peace. The (near) war in the Gaza strip, the uprising of the IS in Iraq and Syria that forced thousands to leave their homes and seek refuge in another country. I am thankful that our children can sleep in peace, unaffected by war and violence.

6. A job. More exactly: a job that sustains our family. Or in our case more than just sustains the family. I am painfully aware that a 40-hour a week job does oftentimes not allow a family to make ends meet any more nowadays.

7. Time. I didn't think I would enjoy being home as much as I do. I think the biggest part is that hubby is home, too, doing school. This maternity/parental leave is a unique opportunity for our family to spend so much quality time together.

8. Freedom. Even though I am writing a lot about our freedom as Atheists is frequently cut, at least we can speak openly about being an Atheist. We can choose not to attend any religious service without having to fear repercussions. I can speak my mind without having to fear prosecution.

9. Safety from natural disasters. I am incredibly thankful to be living in an area where the worst thing that generally happens is a much stronger-than-normal storm blow some shingles from our roofs or a huge rainstorm fills a few basements. After surviving a tornado in Kansas that completely destroyed a whole subdivision, I will never take this for granted again!

10. Love. Many people do not experience this. I am lucky enough to be surrounded by so much love every single day, and I am incredibly thankful for it!

On to the ten thankfuls for the week!

1. Snow!!!! Oh my goodness, snow!!!  And throwing snowballs at the girls!

2. A wonderful Yule celebration being spent with many friends visiting, too much good food eaten, and seeing the girls be so happy with the loot they got from Santa.

3. Slowly getting a handle on the chaos that ensued after the loot was discovered and opened.

4. Did I ever mention the dryer?

5. Calvin being a good sleeper!!!

6. Afternoon naps with the baby!

7. Little outings on the sled.

8. Hubby being the best and giving me my first few sets of D&D dice for a gift. I've only been playing for 6 years or so...

9. Traditions. Like spending New Years Eve once again with out friends!

10. A warm bed that I'm going to fall into in a minute.

I wish every one of you a few more fun days in 2014!

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Goose - A Traditional German Holiday Dinner

This year, hubby requested American-style holiday dinner again: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, and pies for dessert. But since most of you already have your own family recipes on all of these, and mine aren't really special, I would like to share our traditional German holiday dinner recipes, which I made last year for our family.

Roasted Goose with Bread Dumplings and Pickled Red Cabbage

1 goose, fresh or thawed, guts and neck removed
1 small head of red cabbage
about 8 - 10 sour dough bread rolls, cut into cubes and dried for a couple of days
1 small onion
1-2 carrots
1 parsley root
some parsley
3 eggs
red wine
apple juice
apple cider vinegar
2-3 bay leaves
3 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
salt / pepper / paprika / nutmeg / flour / butter / sugar

Prepare ahead:
2-3 days ahead: cut bread rolls into cubes and store in a large bowl to dry

1 day ahead: prepare the red cabbage:
Slice the cabbage in very finely, removing the stem. Put the cabbage slices in a large pot and add about 1 cup of red wine, 1 cup of apple juice, 1/2 cup of vinegar, the bay leaves, cinnamon stick, and cloves. Cook slowly on low heat, add liquid as required. When the cabbage is soft, let cool, remove the spices and store at a cool place overnight.

The day of:
Pre-heat the oven to 450F. Place the goose in a large frying pan. Season with salt, pepper, and paprika and brush some olive oil in it; place the goose in the oven. After about 20 minutes reduce the heat to about 300F and cook for another 3-4 hours; turn the goose about every hour and pour some water or red wine over it if necessary to keep it moist.

Meanwhile chop the onion, carrot and parsnip root very finely. Melt some butter in a pan and cook vegetables. Add to the prepared bread cubes, spice with salt and pepper and pour enough warm milk to moisten the bread properly. Add the eggs and the chopped parsnip and mix everything well with your hands. Set aside.

About 30 minutes before the goose is done, heat a large pot of water. Once the water boils add a generous pinch of salt. Form round dumplings from the bread mixture with moist hands and gently place them in the boiling water. Cook until dumplings rise to the surface and remove with a slotted spoon.

Slowly re-heat the cabbage and season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar if necessary.

Once the goose is done, remove from the oven and transfer to a serving plate. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a sauce pan and stir in 1-2 tablespoons of flour. Add the goose drippings and whisk until the butter/flour mix is dissolved. Add more liquid (water, milk, or red wine) if needed and bring to a boil. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, if necessary.

Serve the goose with the dumplings, cabbage, and gravy.


A rich meal like this one is best complemented by a high-quality wine. I would recommend a full-bodied Burgundy or Bordeaux red wine to go with it.

This post has been entered to the Yapp Festive Foodies' Christmas Blogging Competition, sponsored by the Yapp Brothers Company.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

It's The Reason For The Season

I'd like to wish everyone a very Happy Winter Solstice. Even though today technically winter starts, the days are also starting to grow longer again. On this longest night of the year, I am thankful to have a home to shelter, food on the table, and my wonderful family around me to be my light in the darkness.
Newgrange Tomb during the winter solstice (source)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Week In Review - Ten Things Of Thankful (79)

(imagine TToT Logo here)

It's still TToT this weekend, as usual, just without a logo, or a link up. Poor Lizzi is living the cut-off life I did this June/July, and hope that her issues are going to be resolved quickly!

Because it's late, and I'm tired, and somewhat stressing out with a pre-holiday to-do list, here are my 10 thankfuls for this week:

1. The beautiful sunset Violet and I got to see on the way to her occupational therapy appointment on Monday. Imagine a group of trees, black and barren in the distance, with the sun in the brightest orange shining through in between the empty branches. It looked as if the trees were on fire and blazing. Absolutely beautiful!

2. Getting to attend Violet's holiday party at her kindergarten. The class presented a little play; Violet was a little snowflake - the most adorable little snowflake, if I may add  :-)  Of course, the batteries of my camera gave up just when I wanted to snap some pictures, but oh well. This way, I got to enjoy the play without having to look through a camera all the time!

3. To mimic Christine: I had an appointment with my dentist, and everything looks great. Little Calvin was even patient enough (with the help and doting from one of the assistants in the office) that I could get a good cleaning. Yay for clean and healthy teeth!

4. Having friends over for a playdate. The kids played and were hardly seen at all, and we adults enjoyed good, hot coffee. Not to forget: Mr. Calvin was properly adored, which he did not at all appreciate because he had a miffy day.

5. Lily and Violet being absolutely wonderful during a crazy evening. Richard was out on a rehearsal Wednesday night; the girls had just finished brushing their teeth and getting ready for their shower. Calvin was hanging out on the bath rug and started fuzzing; when I picked him up, I knew that something was wrong even before I saw he gold seeping through his onesie. Lily started her shower while I was changing Calvin's diaper, just to have him pee all around and on himself. Unplanned bathtime for the boy it was. I managed to bathe the little stinker, pre-wash his clothes and put a load of laundry in the washer while Miss Violet was taking a shower all by herself. Both girls were dressed and ready for their good-night story by the time the little brother emerged all cleaned up as well. I cannot say how thankful I am that the girls were being so independent that evening, finishing their routine without discussions or whining. There's definitely a surprise in their future!

6. Chance encounters. I found a CD-player for Lily at one of our local second-hand pages on FB. The guy who sold the CD-player turned out to be a fellow translator, whowas very excited to meet another translator to pass orders off to. And I'm always happy to accept smaller orders. Plus the guy had this awesome British accent I could listen to for hours. I don't care what you say, just keep talking  ;-)

7. Violet's speech therapist being very happy with her progress. She commented that Violet was able to concentrate a lot better on the games they were playing and also was developing a lot more self-confidence. I have noticed this change in her as well, mostly by her being a lot more confrontational at home, but she's also standing up more for herself in kindergarten. 

8. Meeting all my colleagues for a stroll across the Erlangen winter market on Friday. It was great to see everyone, to introduce some of my colleagues to Calvin, and just get updated on the lastest news. My boss said that my return to work is eagerly anticipated, which definitely feels good. About 70 more days until my first day back at work. I'm looking forward to it, but also dread it at the same time...

9. Another fun stroll over the winter market with a friend and a total of 5 kids. The girls rode on the merry-go-round, got a gingerbread heart, and explored the forest themed market. Besides my back hurting big time from carrying Calvin around in the wrap for a few hours, we all had the best time!

10. Handmade gifts: Lily brought home a tree ornament and a card for hubby and me, absolutely sweet!  And Violet got a loop bracelet from her kindergarten teachers. I know that they love Violet (and all the other kids as well), but spendign that much time to make bracelets for all the kids in their favorite colors goes beyond everything. I'm really thankful for Violet's kindergarten teachers! (<- 10-1="" p="" s="" that="">

What are you thankful for this week?

What are you thankful for this week?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Toy-less Holiday

After the move this year, seeing all the stuff we had, and the way the girls' interests are developing, we have decided to make this holiday a toy-less one. So what to give to three kids aged 6, 4, and 4 months that are not toys?

Here are a few options:
- gift cards.
- puzzles or board games.
- vouchers, for example for picking up your kids' rooms, cooking their favorite meal, ice cream for dinner, etc.
- taking your kiddo on a lunch date.
- a movie or audio book.
- movie theater tickets.
- clothes they've wanted in forever.
- tickets to a theme park.
- keepsakes.

We've already bought most of the gifts for the girls; the family is also supporting us in our endeavor to make this holiday toy-less (even though the aunties have a special exempt status in this project). The girls somewhat seem to be in on it as well, discussing the letter to Santa, contemplating whether certain toys were necessary or whether they already had them. So proud of the girls, whose wish lists mostly contain books and puzzles!

What are you planning on giving the kids in your life as a holiday gift?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Violet's Favorite Homework

After each of her occupational therapy session, Violet gets a "homework" to focus on for the week until the next session. This week's homework: finding out whether Violet is left-handed, right-handed, or truly ambidextrous. Right now, her therapist would almost tend to her being ambidextrous, as initially, she performed her tests better with her right hand, which made us believe that she was a "confused righty" (right-handed people who prefer using their left hand due to mostly left-handed role models; usually the other way round!). Today, she approached me with a worksheet, informing me that surprisingly, she had performed a lot better with her LEFT hand that day, and that we really need to observe her in her daily life to establish her "handedness" for good.

So Violet's "homework" for this week is, among others (daily tasks like eating with utensils, brushing her teeth, etc.):

- eating ice cream in cones (in which hand does she hold the cone).
- water the flowers.
- hammer nails into a board (most likely hubby's favorite).
- color with water colors.

Guess who was very excited to be allowed to pick a maxi-box of ice cream cones at the grocery store today??

What would happen if Violet was determined to be truely ambidextrous?  We, together with her kindergarten teachers and therapists, will have to decide for her whether she will be raised mostly left- or right-handed. By the time she starts school, she has to be established as being left- or right-handed, and depending on how we decide, her occupational therapist will focus on training her dominant hand.

Our Violet is truly a very special girl!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Week In Review - Ten Things Of Thankful (78)

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The year is slowly drawing to a close. I remember a lot about this time last year, when I started having the first feelings about our little baby growing inside me. The excitement of the knowledge being all my own for a little while longer until I was sure enough to share the news with hubby. And now, we have our little son with us, completing our happy chaos. It is stressful, and with all the sleep deprivation, it feels as if Richard and I barely have half a brain in between the two of us. But we are happy. And tired. Right now, I am so thankful for getting to spend so much time with the entire family, with hubby studying online from home. This is a chance not many families get, and I thoroughly enjoy it.

More thankfuls of this week:

1. A great visit with our friends on Sunday. We usually meet on a Sunday and have a big lunch together. The kids play, the adults share good conversation, and we usually get home way too late, but happy. The friendship is still fairly new, but we've been growing close so quickly.

2. Participating in a food-drive at Violet's kindergarten. The class is preparing food packages to be sent to the Ukraine to support the victims of the war there. It is wonderful that the teachers are teaching the kids about the situations and to share what we have with those less fortunate.

3. Lily being healthy again. She missed three days of school in the last 2 weeks due to a stomach bug; I had several 3am summonings to change sheets full of puke and clean a terrified Lily, poor girl. Luckily, she was able to make up the schoolwork she missed without a problem, and is already halfway through a book she got from the school library on Thursday. So proud of our little reader!!

4. Baking yummie honey cakes. I've been planning on baking some in forever, but never actually fit it in. So glad Calvin and I got to it this week, they are delicious!

5. Violet's allergy test results being all negative. So she's just dealing with a very stubborn cough and mild bronchitis, but thankfully not a chronic allergic bronchitis!

6. Getting the call that our new dryer will be delivered on Monday. So excited! We're taking a break from doing laundry this weekend and simply wait for Monday and our new dryer  :-)

7. Our sweet little Violet. She is the absolutely most amazing little girl in this world. Today, while shopping, we went to the bathroom, and as we were leaving, an elderly lady was about to come in. And what did my little girl do?  She held the door open and stepped aside to let her in. The door was heavy, but she was so proud to be able to help out. I couldn't have been a prouder mommy  :-)

8. Hubby taking better care of me than I do. He frequently sends me to bed, gets up in the morning to give me an extra hour of sleep, makes me coffee, etc. I don't deserve him, but am so thankful for him!

9. Getting to watch the kids. Calvin was teething like a littke madman on Lily's finger, Lily's sqeaking and cussing him out while Violet is rolling on the floor laughing.  They are so hilarious!!

10.  Not falling asleep at the D&D table again and having a fun time playing. This was probably the last game of the year, but I'm looking forward to playing with this awesome group next year again!

What are you thankful for this week?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Calvin's Third Month

The careful reader will wonder: why Calvin's THIRD month? Shouldn't he be closer to 4 months old now??  Indeed, today is his 4-month birthday, but in between my grandfather's death, the funeral, the ensuing bout of depression on my end, and our daily chaos, I obviously missed to post his 3-month update.

Therefore, here are his stats and favorites during his third month of life:

Height: not sure, ever growing I'd say. He's outgrown his 3-month clothes and is now proudly wearing size 6 month.
Weight: the same here. He's probably gained another pound or so within the last month. I swear, I don't need a gym; carrying this boy around all day is all the arm-workout I need!!
Clothes size: Firmly lodged in 6-months clothes.
Number of teeth: none, but he's teething like a champ. Drool, drool, everywhere I look...
Biggest Milestone: He started laughing on November 2nd!!!

Favorite food: mommy's milk
Favorite toy: Still his activity gym. He's figured out to kick the arc to make a sound, so cute! He also likes the Muppets Animal doll he received as a gift from his aunt and uncle; fuzzy hair tickles!
Favorite book: Since Lily has learned reading, she's been reading children's books to him; I'd say he loves the book with the polar bear finger puppet that Lily's been reading to him.
Favorite outfit / piece of clothing: Calvin still doesn't really care. He loves the freedom of just wearing jammies, but hardly ever complains if I dress him in the morning. But he still hates putting on his jacket, no idea why..

Likes: cuddling, drooling, chewing on mommy's hand or a toy, smiling at his sisters, being carried (and oftentimes sleeping) in his Moby wrap.
Dislikes: bathing, mommy not paying attention to him for a minute, tummy-time, loud noises

Calvin at 3 months


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Week In Review - Ten Things Of Thankful (77)

Ten Things of Thankful

I feel as if things are slowly going back to normal again. I managed to get out of bed this week, I managed to keep track of the various appointments, I managed to do some holiday shopping and ran some necessary errands, and all despite the various illnesses having their firm grasp on our family. I've been at the pediatrician on 3 out of 5 days this week, once for Calvin's shots that he couldn't get at his 3-4 month appointment due to - right - being sick, once with Lily for a stomach bug, and finally with Violet for her lasting cough, which may be related to an allergy. Yes, this poor girl seems to not be getting a break. Still, this week has been a great one, for many things. My top ten this week:

1. Violet's occupational therapist. She is such a wonderful person, with a heart of gold. the way she works with the children, how she knows how to deal with every individual personality, calm the over-stimulated kids and encourages the shy ones. She always takes a lot of time to talk to the parents after the sessions and gave me a bunch of material to better understand Violet's world and show me ways to work with her.

2. Candles.  Instead of a traditional advent wreath with four candles that mark the four Sundays before Christmas, I made an arrangement with five candles, symbolizing the five of us. As Atheists, we're not celebrating Christmas but rather, as the winter solstice and with it the longest night of the years draws closer, focus on all of good things our family got to experience, the people in our lives, and our thankfulness of getting to celebrate this time of the year without worries, in safety, and with everyone of us more or less healthy.

3. The smell of sugar cookies charring baking in the oven.

4. Our wonderful neighbors. Our dryer somewhat died on us today (definite burning smell when I came home; I unscrewed the back and cleaned quite some stuff out of there, but we're still not trusting it), and our new dryer won't be delivered for another couple of weeks, so they offered to use theirs until we have our new one. With a family of 5 with a new house that doesn't do well with the added humidity of clothes drying on a rack, being dryer-less could develop into quite a problem.

5. The first flurries of snow!!!! Yes, we've had some snow!! Lily was so excited seeing the little bit of white on the roofs, and Violet couldn't help herself and ate some snow she scratched off a stone wall (yes, I know, it's gross, but it's her way of experiencing). This morning walk definitely made me happy.

6. Hubby being absolutely sweet and buying me a poppy-seed danish for breakfast. Yum!

7. Paper tissues, butt paste, and nose spray. Yes, the sickness caught up to me, too, but I get to live in a world where all the things mentioned above are readily available to get rid off the gross stuff, keep my nose from getting red and raw, and helping me to be able to breath enough to sleep at night.

8. Sharing cinnamon hot chocolate with the girls in the afternoon.

9. Getting to dress up (somewhat) and attend our friends' holiday party with all the kids. It was a lot of fun for all of us, meeting new people and people we didn't know our friends knew as well  :-)  We did lose the bottle of hard cider towards the end of the white elephant game (yes, I know, who would be heartless enough to steal the booze from a mother of three??), but enjoyed ourselves so much, ate good food, drank some great mulled wine and fruit punch. Perfect evening!

10. My cousin getting to celebrate another birthday. Yes, his birthday is St. Nicholas Day, which always meant a certain visit during his birthday when we were children. Oh dear memories!

I wish you all a wonderful weekend and some time for yourself to reflect on the many thankfuls in your lives!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Experiencing The World - In Two Dimensions

Most frequent readers may know that Violet has a serious vision impairment. Her vision was so bad that her brain shut off one eye to be able to form a picture at all, which left her without 3-D vision.

But how does a little girl experience the world, which for her only has two dimensions? Talking to her occupational therapist a lot, I was able to get an idea, even though I could never ever even imagine it. Since she cannot experience the space around her with her eyes, the other senses, especially feeling, has taken over. For now, both in her sessions with her occupational therapist as well as in her daily routine, her therapy is divided in two blocks: experiencing her surroundings and herself in her environment.

Violet's world has no depth, she cannot perceive speed with her eyes, or distance, or a difference in height. Therefore, creating tangible boundaries for her help her to experience space. Building a pillow fort or a blanket tent for her, or wrapping her in a blanket are ways to create a small, safe world to experience this.

Since she cannot perceive speed as we do, letting her alternate between running, walking, and skipping lets her experience how the wind and the air feel at different speed. Letting her push Calvin's stroller, pull a sled or a little cart, jumping on a trampoline or play tug o' war also helps her to perceive the space around her.

Walking on stilts, balancing, walking on slopes or stairs or playing on uneven ground also supports her grounding and confidence in the world around her.

Experiencing herself in this world, massages and other sensoric stimuli are an essential tool. She touches most things she gets in contact with or even puts them in her mouth to experience 3-dimensional bodies. Playing in the sandbox in summer or in the snow in winter, kneating playdough or actual cookie or pizza dough, or recognizing objects while blindfolded helps her with this.

At the moment, her little world is still so full of dangers. Most of the times she cannot tell how fast a car is driving on the street, so she never crosses the street if she sees any cars that are not parked; she cannot see how high a sidewalk is; she touches hot plates or gets splinters when walking with her hand along wooden fences. But step by step, her confidence grows. We are so thankful that despite her challenges, she is still such a happy, little girl who doesn't let her situation keep her from having fun. Her kindergarten teachers love her; the other day, they told me how they love her being the perfect princess inside but as soon as she puts on her mud pants and rubber boots, she starts rolling in the dirt.

Even though her world is not like yours and mine - and maybe never will - she enjoys her life, and enjoys experience it every day. Her joy spreads to everyone around her, and I consider myself so very lucky to be her mommy and to be able to walk this way beside and with her, even though we're separated by one dimension.

Monday, December 1, 2014


Today, the Carnival of Atheist Parenting (CAP) went live again featuring one of my posts. If you are interested in learning more about parenting as an Atheist or homeschooling (there are quite a few homeschooling Atheist parents as well), head over to Karen's blog and show her some love. I'd greatly appreciate it!!!